In the depths of the North Sea, something stirred.
For almost a century, the fault had lain dormant and forgotten, inconsequential to the lives of the human denizens located in their urban domains over 60 miles away. All of sudden, it came to life. The sea bank ruptured as rocks either side of the fault-line began slipping like a malfunctioning conveyor belt, causing a large fissure to appear in the marine floor whilst releasing large pockets of trapped gas and sediment into the water. The resulting stress sent out shockwaves of unimaginable levels across the seabed, reverberating outwards from the epicentre of Dogger Bank and away into the distance. As the quake increased in intensity, the febrile ocean base shook with violent fervour. A presage of catastrophe, whose after-effects would be felt elsewhere for a significant time afterwards...
Miles away, seismographs linked to servers in the British Geographical Survey headquarters in Nottingham shuddered then went apoplectic. Scientific and geological staff jostled to see what was going on, as the results were rapidly fed through onto the monitors arraigned in their offices. The readings were unbelievable. No-one thought they'd ever see anything like this in their life-time, least of all in the British Isles of all places.
Dogger Bank was going berserk: 8.2 on the richter scale.
This shouldn't be happening. Not here, not now. This was more the sort of thing you expected to see in places like Japan or Sumatra. This country only suffered moderate seismology, not critical stuff like this. The only near comparable event had occurred there in 1931, when an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude had caused a small tsunami and some minor disruption. But this was off the scale!
The sense of bewilderment and disbelief rapidly subsided to panic and discombobulation. The eastern coast of England was now at risk, but not just from structural damage and disruption caused by shock waves from the epicentre. Now, the sea itself would be exacting a dreadful vengeance on the coastline and estuaries running from Northumberland to Kent. The consequences were inconceivable and unthinkable. Within minutes, a hastily convened conference call was being made to Whitehall in London...
At Lockton, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, hydraulic fracturing wells continued to pump waste effluent produced from their newly commissioned gas explorations into deep rock reservoirs, some 8000 feet below the earth's crust. The workers thought nothing more of it. Well, it had to be disposed of somehow to try and keep the environmentalist wolves from the door. Nobody would really notice down there. Out of site, out of mind. After all, this was the answer to the energy crisis and the problem of keeping the lights on. No-one should be complaining about that - unless, of course, you happened to be a raving 'green' vehemently opposed to progress and economic development. The risks were minimal. The government had re-assured the public as such, so there should be no concerns.
So, as the earth started trembling, no-one working at the site made the connection. After all, 'fracking' couldn't cause a major earthquake - could it?
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The athletic man took a deep breath and prepared himself mentally. Sunrise was already imposed upon ancient mountains, illuminating heaven with a bright yellow glare that contrasted sharply with a jagged cobalt-grey outline of encircling peaks.
It was glorious.
For a place often shrouded in thick cloud and leaden sky, mornings such as this were truly magical. He'd been here for a few years, having come to seek solace and refuge. It'd been a natural choice, given the similarity to his homeland.
Sitting on an outcrop stone that blistered from a grassy bank below the summit of a craggy, forested hillock to which he'd been brought, he adopted a 'Buddha' pose. A rapid expulsion of air, the man stretched out muscular arms as far as his tendons would allow. The view down into the valley, over which the hillock commanded, was breath-taking. Above and behind towered the impressive peak that gave its name to the park in which it was located: the highest mountain in the upland of this tiny but magnificent country. To the left stretched clear and cool waters of a large, bluish lake next to lusciously-tainted purple and green foot hills. Further south, more magnificent mountains were emblazoned against a now deep blue sky, including one shaped like a knight's helmet.
Releasing a deep breath once more, the man stretched his hands back in front of his chest until they met. Thumbs pointing backwards, he let out a slight hum as he released another out-breath. Blinking deep blue eyes, he dropped his hands before raising them to rub thick palms over a handsomely-rugged face. Strong fingers ran through a mane of black hair leading down to the collar of an open-neck, white linen Polo shirt.
Birds chirped busily from the nearby trees adorning the hillock. No sound came from the road below. No early morning traffic, no tourists. Nothing. Well, that wasn't such a bad thing! The world might be going to 'hell in a hand-cart', but at least the fuel shortages afforded him some respite on this important day. Ironic really, given that this ancient fortress harked back to a time of simpler living, long before the complexities of modern life had even been vaguely conceived.
Blinking eyes at the early morning sun, the athlete reflected on a quaint little story he'd heard about this place when first arriving here since his 'retirement'. Two worms, which then became Dragons, were found in a reservoir below the tower which a king called Vortigern had tried to build on the summit. One Dragon was red, the other white. They'd begun fighting. At first, the White Dragon gained the upper hand but then the Red Dragon found its fighting spirit again and fought back valiantly, hurling the White Dragon away across the reservoir.
A broad smile broke as he recalled the tale. The part he liked was how a prophet called Ambrosius Merlin - although merely a boy - had interpreted the story to the King. In return, Vortigern had given the fortress to the child as a gift. From this came its name. 'Dinas Emrys' - 'the fortress of Ambrosius'.
The sound of someone clearing their throat from behind was distracting. He took another deep breath before shifting around to observe.
A short, stocky middle-aged man dressed in curious attire stared solemnly and respectfully, supporting himself with a six foot long rod made of ash, the top affixed with a brass ornament fashioned into two scaley serpents. A brilliant white robe disclosed a priestly rank: elaborately decorated, tied by a golden sash and supporting a small golden sickle. Most inspiring was the feathered cloak and a golden braid surrounding his forehead.
A while earlier, the man had been in ordinary, everyday clothes. Now, he was something else - seemingly more ancient and wise. Others might have smiled inanely at the absurd quaintness, but the athlete merely bowed his head reverentially. The priest responded in kind.
'We are ready for you!' he whispered in a thick North Wales accent.
'Thank you. I'm ready too!'
The voice belayed dulcet tones revealing antipodean origins. Indeed a stranger, but one who'd been welcomed, nay revered. Leaping purposefully from the outcrop, he proceeded to follow into the cover of the trees behind.
He stared contemptuously across the Cabinet Office and towards the doorway to the Prime Minister's private room. Having just had the dubious pleasure of being present in a COBRA meeting, the rising star Lieutenant-Colonel with a background in Special Forces - one of the youngest to be promoted to that rank - had been attached to Whitehall for a while now. He hated every minute, much preferring front line command. But career progression dictated otherwise, so there'd been little choice.
Gripping an attaché case firmly whilst irritably rubbing his right hand against the back of close-cropped hair, a scowl persisted on a stony face whilst waiting for the PM to emerge.
God, he hated politicians! Lumbered with the thankless task of being the military liaison for Number 10's evacuation, his orders were part of the standard operational procedure hastily implemented following the convening of the meeting. In other words, nurse-maiding a clunking idiot and his sycophants. A spineless premier thrown up by yet another coalition spawned from the political chaos of hung parliaments and national government.
Inside, the PM fussed and ranted at his aides obtusely. Much better to be waiting here then! All he had to do was take the PM to the Whitehall helicopter pad to be whisked away before escaping the nuthouse! And not before time...
The magnificently decorated Georgian interior of the cabinet office, supported by its famous classical columns, had the aura of the condemned on death-row. In a very short time, the whole area would be flooded and Number Ten would be confined to the garbage. Heritage dating back to Oliver Cromwell and Charles the Second, all of it would soon be submerged. Pursing his lips, the Colonel adjusted the collar of a shirt forming part of a smart, olive green dress uniform. It was nauseating. Centuries of history down the toilet, and here was this buffoon fussing and aggravating with his staff. Concerned only with saving his own scrawny skin, caring nothing about the country's needs.
The doors to the private office swung open as the Home Secretary came striding out. Looking the Colonel up and down like some dismissive School Marm observing a school prefect who'd turned up for duty late, the buxom woman spoke sternly.
'Colonel? What're you doing?'
'Awaiting the PM, Minister' he replied nonchalantly, grey-blue eyes unswervably stoical . 'I'm to escort him to the helicopter. Do you know how long he'll be?'
'God knows!' she replied with a shrug of irritation and resignation.
Behind her, the PM was still remonstrating with his aides through the open doorway.
'For God's sake! Where is that briefing file?! I thought you said you'd got it out of the filing cabinet?!'
The Home Secretary raised her eyebrows to the ceiling with a sigh. Pushing open one of two double exit doors she bustled out, leaving the officer to endure proceedings.
Finally, after an eternity of ten minutes, the thick-set PM barged out of the office followed by fraught looking male and female aides, one of whom timidly held the door open for him. Making no effort to acknowledge her, the PM hammered rudely onwards, constantly talking behind as he made for the double-doors.
'Have we got everything we need?'
'Yes, Prime Minister!' replied one grey-suited aide nervously. 'I think so.'
'Oh, you think so, Kenneth? Well, I hope so too! And we need to make sure everybody and everything is cleared out of here in the next half hour, or I'm holding you personally responsible!'
The PM briefly stopped by the Colonel, scowling at the escort with furrowed eyebrows under wavy, jet-black hair.
'Well, are we ready Colonel?'
'Yes, Sir! We have been for the past twenty minutes or so.'
'You implying something, Colonel?'
'No, Sir! I'm just telling you that we've been ready for the past twenty minutes.'
The PM looked back with obvious contempt, clearly taking exception to the officer's tone.
'Good! We best get going then!'
He pushed open the double-doors and disappeared into the corridor, followed by his entourage of lackeys.
The Colonel stepped aside to let him go, holding the door open as the party left. Briefly, he looked round at the Cabinet Office one last time, before turning to step outside into the corridor through which the PM's group was now making its way in haste. He followed in resentment.
Same old establishment.
A state misgoverned and misruled through a combination of incompetence and corruption. Expenses scandals, a catastrophic defeat in war, wasteful public expenditure. Bailing out banks, chronic under-investment in the infrastructure, failing to address the nation's energy needs. Head-burying ostrich style...and so it went on!
What really enraged the Colonel was that this latest incumbent had dithered over dealing with the energy crisis, hesitated over implementing full emergency powers and allowed the Monarchy to leave in ignominious circumstances. And his response to the latest? To the impending inundation of London by some rare earthquake which no-one knew the cause of but which everyone speculated on, a half-baked plan of evacuation! So here he was now, acting like a child that'd thrown its dummy in the corner then blaming someone else! People were going to be dying out there soon, and all he could care about was whether they'd got all the documents they needed! Decisive leadership? Not much chance of that!
This would be the day that Britain would die. And Colonel Masters was wondering what the hell would come afterwards...
A slow hum from the surrounding circle turned into a rapid hand-clap, accompanied by the sound of a beating drum similar in style to an Irish 'bodhran' - known in Welsh as a 'Tabwrdd'.
Sitting in a small hollow of oak trees hidden below the foundations of an ancient tower on the summit, the New Zealander again perched cross-legged on a small outcrop. The circle of men, similarly attired to the priest, focussed attention on him as they rhythmically chanted in unison. Attired in an eclectic composition of brown, black, grey, white and blue plumage draped around his shoulders, he gazed to his immediate front with a slight feeling of trepidation.
There'd been numerous times when he'd felt petrified, but he'd been trained to deal with it all. This apprehension was different, languishing in the pit of his stomach like some leaden weight. Already having struggled with vanquishing inner demons, he'd hopefully managed to tame the darker side. But there was still the uncertainty of this new journey along the path to enlightenment. Fear not, they'd said, it 's only natural to be afraid!
The priest who'd collected him stood in front, next to what had once probably been a pool but was now filled with just marram grass; reputedly, the very place where the duelling dragons had been found. Raising his arms to the sides of his head and closing his eyes, he recanted an ancient verse in Welsh against the backdrop of the incessant, rhythmic sounds. Transfixed, the New Zealander became more immersed, the leaden feeling increasingly slipping away as his focus shifted from his lower chakras to the frontal lobe. Still reciting the prose, the priest opened his eyes and lowered his arms, pacing slowly towards his subject before resting both hands on the New Zealander's broad shoulders. As he did, the chanting and the drum ceased abruptly.
'"Llew, mighty Llew, companion to the birds and spirit of the air, Llew Embrais!"' canted the Priest with shrill intonation, drawing in a deep breath and closing his eyes once more. Keeping his hands in place on his subject's shoulders, he continued with an obscure Welsh prose. The New Zealander, who'd learnt and now fluently spoke the native language, was fully aware that 'Llew' was his new name.
Llew. It meant 'Lion'.
The chanting and the sound of the drum recommenced. Llew took this as his cue. Closing his eyes as the noise reverberated in his eardrums, his mind state changed. It was psychosomatic, the equivalent of being placed into a hypnotic trance. No, not the equivalent. It was the same thing! As he began to drift away, the sounds of the priest's voice repeated in his mind, guiding him into visualisation.
'"See! See your destiny! See the truth within you!"'
It was in his mind that he saw himself transform. His own body - or at least his astral one - changing and morphing into something else. Shrinking and reforming, twisting and turning until muscle and sinew was replaced with feathers and a broad wingspan. His face formed a sharp, yellow and grey beak with piercing gold eyes embedded in the head of a bird, placed upon a body of golden-brown plumage. Llew stretched out his wings, a screeching noise emanating from his mouth as he suddenly took to the air with a swoop, wing-span extended and flapping to take control of the thermals in the air that would assist him in his assent into the deep blue firmament.
Upwards and upwards, the characteristic screech of a Golden Eagle emanating across deep valleys and gorges furrowed amongst the Snowdonia range. Ever higher, above the small fortress outcrop and towards the inspiring peak of Snowdon - or 'Y Wyddfa' as it was known in Welsh. Soaring and flying at great height, up and away. Over the land of Eryri, the 'place of Eagles'. Over mountain ranges, further and further...
This was no ordinary flight. At almost supersonic speed he travelled over more mountains and valleys that soon became green hills and gentler reliefs. Faster and faster, heading further and further inland. More so until he had by-passed great hills that marked a border and gave way to a plain. A more panoramic stretch of land, characterised by arable and pastoral farms and villages.
Before him lay two mounds next to a deep, black-looking pool surrounded by a ring of trees. Still soaring and swooping in the air, he lowered his feathered head and, with beady eyes, spied the kettle-hole languishing next to the earth-works. A breaking of the surface of the dank waters caught his attention further. Something began rising from the depths. The glint of some golden object surfacing, the hilt of a sword shining in the early morning sun. It raised itself further, a sleek blade attached to the hilt. Shining white metal emerging from the depths and then hovering above the surface of the waters as though transfixed in space.
Folding his wings inward, he dived towards the sword. Downwards, further and further. Closer and closer, until he was but a mere few inches away and drawing ever closer to the surface of the pool. Skimming close to the pommel, talons outstretched, he grabbed the hilt - engraved in the likeness of two serpents - and took hold with a strong grip. Yanking the sword away from its hovering position, Llew furiously flapped his wingspan once more and, with a swoosh, sped upwards into the sky, lifting the treasure with him as he went. Upwards and upwards, away from the pool. Further and further, the kettle-hole beneath gradually melting away into the land below as he ascended and headed west, away from the early morning sun. Back towards the place from whence he'd come.
His eyes opened and he blinked furiously at the sudden influx of light piercing through the canopy of trees. He was back in the present, on the summit of Dinas Emrys. Fully formed and human again. It only seemed like a brief instant. Then again, it could have been an eternity! The host had ceased its chanting and stood silently, awaiting further utterances from the priest. Removing his hands from Llew's shoulders, the priest smiled.
'"You are prepared now, Llew! Now, you must learn your true name!"'
The priest beckoned, another shamanic figure bringing over a staff. It was the same type as the one the priest himself had carried, also affixed with a dual serpent symbol. Except this one was made from Welsh gold. The priest cradled it respectfully and presented it to Llew, who took the staff gingerly in his right hand, placing the other end on the ground to support it next to him. The cleric then took a pendant, handed to him by another assistant.
Forged from the same precious metal in a zoomorphic pattern, it depicted a strong-looking ox at the bottom from which stemmed twin serpents twisted into each other in the centre. They, in turn, supported the image of an eagle in flight: wing-span outstretched in the manner in which Llew had just seen himself transform into. The priest held the pendant by its leather thong and placed it around Llew's neck. Finally, he was given a golden-braided head-band ceremoniously placed around the forehead with great care. His work finished, the priest stepped backwards and bowed respectfully.
'"Welcome, Llew, great warrior and bard!"' he declared. '"Our order has anticipated this day for many a year. It has been my sacred task to initiate you today, so that you may become one of us. But you are more than one of our brethren. You hold the position of one who guides and nurtures us, your people, and the one you have been sent here to assist! The one who will be 'Y Mab Darogan'. Our national saviour!"'
The priest paused and drew a deep breath before continuing.
'"We accept you as our brother! You are known as 'Llew' from this time forth, but it still falls upon me to tell you your secret name. The one that must remain hidden until the right time is reached! The one that denotes who you truly are, and shall forever be!"'
Llew drew in a deep breath and bowed his head as the priest moved close up and whispered in his right ear. Listening carefully, Llew nodded once to show that he understood as the jubilant priest pulled back and patted him on the shoulder, smiling broadly. Llew knew the name, he knew it very well. One day, it would be revealed but not by his own word...
The rumour for a long time after would be that 'fracking' had been responsible. Because the lights had been going out, energy use restricted and the resultant unrest it had caused, they'd brought the process forward in northern England as some-one, a while back, had pointed out that there was a lot of shale gas and oil there to be exploited. The green energy solutions had failed as war in the Middle East, along with shortages elsewhere, had led to a price spike again. So a dash to extract fossil fuels, using a process that literally blasted shale gas out of deep reserves under heavily populated areas, seemed like the only option. This was what had provoked mass protests in the north, but the establishment had tried to ignore them. Instead, the drilling went ahead anyway. Nevermind the risks, never mind Climate Change and Global Warming.
None of this seemed important in the capital anymore. The very centre of London itself was now largely deserted, apart from the looters who'd remained behind after a very hasty evacuation. This was a strange feeling for a city that had been so heavily populated. But the panic had caused mass exodus within minutes of the warning having been broadcast on the 24-hour News Channels. The roads leading out of the centre were still jam packed, as were the underground and train systems. Chaos ruled and people fought. It was every human for themselves. No-one believed the Thames Barrier would save them. It may have resisted the initial waves of the tsunami, but really it had been designed to resist the Thames Surge - not this.
To the looters bursting out of an electrical shop on Oxford Street, the bounty gained was worth more than the likelihood of the city defences withstanding any deluge. One by one, they exited carrying an array of PCs, tablets, Smart Phones and flat-screen TVs under their arms. The last, nursing a 40 inch flatscreen in its box, stopped briefly in the street after having stepped through the broken window. There was a sound of rumbling getting louder and louder. It was coming from the direction of nearby Regent Street, down towards Piccadily Circus.
Twisting in the direction of the now burdening noise, his feet crunching on broken glass, he raised the peak of a black-base ball cap to observe. One of the others nearby stopped and called to him.
'Dwayne! Whatyer doing? C'mon, let's go, blood!'
Oblivious to the voice, Dwayne pulled down the bright-red bandanna covering the lower part of his face. Transfixed, his mouth opened wide as he saw what was coming towards him. A wall of water, rushing down the street at speed and engulfing the buildings with a gushing devastation. He had no time to turn and run...